Top Engineers – Robert Ludwig

Mark Levinson / Acoustic Recording Series, Volume 2 – Reviewed in 2008

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

A good sounding audiophile record? Yes, it is possible, we can’t deny it.

In fact, we actually sell some of the best ones ourselves.

The sound on the record is excellent. It was engineered by Mark Levinson, on special equipment designed to create virtually noiseless ultra-low-distortion master tapes, without noise-reduction systems. It’s mastered by Robert Ludwig

The first side contains Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales played on the piano by Lois Shapiro.

Side two contains her performance of Haydn’s Sonata No. 49.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – 45 RPM Pressings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to Understanding The Fundamentals

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Audiophile Pressings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Direct to Disc Recordings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Japanese Pressings

Jimi Hendrix – Band of Gypsys

More Jimi Hendrix

More Rock Classics

  • Truly exceptional sound – these Ludwig-mastered Capitol Orange Label pressings are the only way to fly
  • Tons of bass, smooth vocals, and an overall freedom from distortion characterize the overall sound of both sides, and that’s unusual, because most copies of this record are just plain dreadful
  • Trust me on this one – you’re going to have a difficult and (and expensive!) adventure trying to find a great sounding copy of this one on your own
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Although he could be an erratic live performer, for these shows, Hendrix was on — perhaps his finest performances… not only an important part of the Hendrix legacy, but one of the greatest live albums ever.”
  • If you’re a fan of Jimi’s, this 1970 release belongs in your collection.

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Steely Dan ‎/ Gold on MCA Audiophile Vinyl – Sounds Like a Good CD to Me

Clean and clear and tonally correct, just like a good CD should sound. If this is what you are after, why not just buy the CD? It’s a lot cheaper.

Some songs sound better than others, can’t for the life of me remember which ones. I auditioned copies of this record more than twenty years ago. Once I got rid of them I never bought another. Why would I?

No doubt there are still audiophiles extolling the virtues of this record in various threads. One thing you can be sure of: these are people who are not very serious about making progress in audio.

Some of the pressings these sorts like can be found in our Stone Age Audio Record section.

If you have top quality, highly-tweaked modern equipment, a good room, and the myriad other things that make exceptionally good vinyl playback possible these days — in a way that was not possible even ten or fifteen years ago — you would have no reason to keep a record of such mediocrity in your collection.

Or say anything nice about it on a site ostensibly devoted to audiophile vinyl.

More Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

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Brewer & Shipley / Tarkio

More Brewer and Shipley

Reviews and Commentaries for Brewer and Shipley

  • Tarkio finally makes it back to the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
  • This, like Dark Side and so many other White Hot Stamper records we offer to the discriminating audiophile, is ANALOG at its finest
  • The sound here is OFF THE CHARTS in a big way — it’s amazingly rich, yet clear and transparent as any we played — what a combination!
  • To our knowledge there hasn’t been a single record mastered in the last thirty years with this kind of sound, and we know whereof we speak: we’ve played them by the hundreds

Not Really One Toke Over the Line

Please don’t assume that this album has much in the way of uptempo country rockers like One Toke Over the Line, Flying Burrito Brothers style. Nothing could be further from the truth. Practically every other song on the album is better, almost all of them are taken at a slower pace, with none of them having the “poppy” arrangement of that carefully calculated Top Forty hit. The rest of the music on the album, the music you probably don’t know, is much better than the music that you do know if what you know is that song.

Sonic Elements

This Bay Area Hippie Folk Rock has a lot in common with The Grateful Dead circa Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty (the latter recorded by the same engineer, Stephen Barncard), and like those superbly well-recorded albums, it lives or dies by the reproduction of its acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies.

Analog richness, sweetness and Tubey Magic are elements absolutely indispensable to the sound of these recordings. Without them you might as well be playing a CD. (Some of the reissue pressings actually do sound like CDs and are not part of the shootouts for this album anymore. Who wants a record that sounds like a CD? They may be pressed on vinyl but they’re no less an embarrassment to analog for it. As you can imagine we feel the same way about most of the Heavy Vinyl records being made today. They’re just embarrassing.)

The best pressings, on the other hand, are everything that’s good about the analog medium — smooth, sweet, relaxed and involving. You had best have a fast cartridge and not overly rich electronics to get the most out of this one. The richness on this record is already baked-in; no need to add more. (more…)

Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms

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Reviews and Commentaries for Brothers in Arms

  • Tonally correct from start to finish, with a solid bottom and fairly natural vocals (for this particular recording of course), HERE is the sound they were going for in the studio
  • Drop the needle on So Far Away – it’s airy, open, and spacious, yet still rich and full-bodied
  • 4 stars: “One of their most focused and accomplished albums … Dire Straits had never been so concise or pop-oriented, and it wore well on them.”

Fully extended from top to bottom with a wide-open soundstage, this is the sound you need for this music. There’s plenty of richness and fullness here as well — traits that are really crucial to getting the most out of a mid-’80s recording like this.

Drop the needle on So Far Away — it’s airy, open, and spacious, yet incredibly rich and full-bodied. The bottom end really delivers the goods — it’s punchy and meaty with healthy amounts of tight, deep bass. (more…)

Venerable or Execrable? If It’s Athena the Chances Are Good It’s the Latter

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

rachmaninoffathena

I spied an interesting quote on the Acoustic Sounds site years ago:

“…Analogue Productions’ 45rpm remastering improves upon the venerable Athena LP release from the late 80s, with better dynamics and a fuller ‘middle’ to the orchestral sonority.” – Andrew Quint, The Absolute Sound, October 2010

For some reason Andrew uses the word “venerable” when a better, certainly more accurate term would have been “execrable.” Having played the record in question this strikes us as the kind of mistake that would not be easy to make.

Athena was a godawful audiophile label that lasted all of five records, only one of which was any good, and it’s not this one. It was in fact the Debussy piano recording with Moravec, mastered by the venerable Robert Ludwig himself, a man who knows his classical music, having cut scores if not hundreds of records for Nonesuch in the ’60s and ’70s. (more…)

Billy Joel – The Stranger

More Billy Joel

  • With solid Double Plus (A++) sound, this pressing of Joel’s 1977 breakthrough album (thanks Phil!) is outstanding from top to bottom – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Tonally correct, solid, open, clear, with plenty of hard-rockin’ energy and present vocals, what’s not to like?
  • The Stranger, Only the Good Die Young, Vienna, Just The Way You Are, Movin’ Out, She’s Always A Woman – some of Joel’s strongest songwriting can be found right here
  • 4 1/2 stars: “None of his ballads have been as sweet or slick as “Just the Way You Are”; he never had created a rocker as bouncy or infectious as “Only the Good Die Young”; and the glossy production of “She’s Always a Woman” disguises its latent misogynist streak… Joel rarely wrote a set of songs better than those on The Stranger, nor did he often deliver an album as consistently listenable.”

We recently completed a shootout for the album and this was one of the better copies we heard. After playing a stack of mediocre Strangers, we are completely confident in saying that you’ll have a very hard time finding a copy that sounds this good.

The Stranger is chock full of some of Joel’s biggest hits, including Just The Way You Are, Movin’ Out, Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, Only The Good Die Young and She’s Always A Woman. AMG raves about this one (4 1/2 stars) and it’s easy to see why — this is the kind of pop music that still sounds fresh 40 years (!) after it was recorded and might just be good for another forty years. (more…)

Dire Straits / Alchemy: Dire Straits Live – How Good Are the Robert Ludwig Pressings?

More Dire Straits

More Moderately Helpful Title Specific Advice

The best domestic pressings we heard, the ones cut by Robert Ludwig at Masterdisk, were simply not competitive with the original British LPs.

The evidence is pretty clear that the master tapes stayed in England and that only the British pressings are made from them.

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Van Morrison – His Band And Street Choir

More Van Morrison

Reviews and Commentaries for Van Morrison

  • The sound is full-bodied, clear, and brimming with the soulful energy of this great artist
  • The best sounding Van Morrison album, a Top 100 title, with classic 1970 Analog sound – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • “As “Domino” opens the album with a show of strength. “Street Choir” closes it with a burst of both musical and poetic energy which is not only better than anything else on the album but may well be one of Van’s two or three finest songs.” Rolling Stone

This is the album that came out between Moondance (in the same year in fact, 1970) and Tupelo Honey, but for some reason, it don’t get no respect. We think that’s insane — the material on this album is stellar and the sound on the best pressings is out of this world!

Here’s a copy that really makes our case for us. Both sides of this original Warner Bros. pressing sound AMAZING! We went through a massive stack of copies and let me tell you — most of them sure don’t sound like this! Take this one home for some of the best Van Morrison sound you will ever hear.

For years I thought that Moondance was the best sounding album in the Van Morrison catalog. His Band And Street Choir is even better. One reason for that would have to be that Robert Ludwig mastered it, and he can usually be counted on to do an excellent job. (more…)

Cream / Heavy Cream – Not Recommended

More Cream

More British Blues Rock

Sonic Grade: D

A Polydor Double LP mastered by Robert Ludwig.

The tonal balance is right on the money, but of course, because this is a compilation, it is made from copies of the master tapes, not real master tapes themselves, so it will always have that blurry, smeary, opaque, airless, sub-generation tape quality sound.

Hey, that’s what we hear on most of the Heavy Vinyl we audition. Imagine that.